Thu | Feb 27, 2020

Firefighting plane crashes in Australia, killing 3 Americans

Published:Thursday | January 23, 2020 | 9:46 AM
In this undated photo released from the Rural Fire Service, a C-130 Hercules plane called "Thor" drops water during a flight in Australia. Officials in Australia on Thursday, January 23, 2020, searched for a water tanker plane feared to have crashed while fighting wildfires. (RFS via AP)

SYDNEY (AP) — Three American crew members were killed Thursday when a C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia, officials said.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the crash deaths in the state’s Snowy Monaro region, which came as Australia grapples with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.

Coulson Aviation in the US state of Oregon said in a statement that one of its Lockheed large air tankers was lost after it left Richmond in New South Wales with retardant for a firebombing mission. It said the accident was “extensive” but had few other details.

“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had conveyed Australia’s condolences to US Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr.

“Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their own homes, an embodiment of the deep friendship between our two countries,” she said in a statement.

“Thank you to these three, and to all the brave firefighters from Australia and around the world. Your service and contribution are extraordinary. We are ever grateful,” she added.

The tragedy brings the death toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September.

The fires have also destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.4 million hectares, an area bigger than the US state of Indiana.

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